How to Put Together an Effective SQL Server Monitoring Strategy

Monitoring SQL servers for unusual activity is absolutely essential, so you need to have a strategy in place to do so.

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Tracking how your database is performing should be on the top of the to-do list for any administrator. And of course, the only way to make sure you handle this effectively and efficiently is to put a monitoring strategy in place.

There are several steps to take, and many considerations to take onboard, when building your own SQL Server monitoring strategy, so here are just a few pieces of guidance that will help you avoid common pitfalls.

Create an overview of your database infrastructure

Before you can hope to get a grip on your monitoring duties, you need to map out the various components and assets that go together to make up your SQL Server ecosystem.

This will be easier or harder depending on the complexity of the existing infrastructure. You can simplify things by documenting all of this, as the more thorough your coverage, the better equipped you will be to monitor and maintain it.

Adopt modern monitoring tools

Every DBA must leverage modern monitoring tools that allow them to gather actionable performance information from across their SQL Server deployment.

The latest solutions are more than capable of adding automation to the mix, meaning that rather than relying on manual performance tracking methods which are both time-consuming and tedious, you can instead allow software to flag worrying events and rogue processes for you.

The tools you pick will form the basis of your monitoring strategy, so compare your options and aim to adopt tried, tested and well-respected solutions if you want the best experience.

Work out what metrics to track

There are all sorts of measurable performance metrics which will give you an insight into how your database is performing from moment to moment. The trick is to know which are the most important to track and analyze.

The hardware resources of your server are clearly important in this context. If your CPU is being run ragged, your RAM is running out of capacity or your storage is close to full, these can all have a calamitous impact on performance, and even result in avoidable downtime.

Measuring hardware performance metrics will not only let you troubleshoot SQL Server snafus, but also implement accurate plans regarding how capacity needs will change further down the line.

So, in this way, an effective SQL Server monitoring strategy is not just for firefighting in-the-moment faults, but also about forecasting ahead to avoid issues in the future.

At a software level, there are similarly significant metrics to be on the lookout for. This includes wait statistics which show how long threads take to execute, and could show certain problematic processes or suboptimal queries are present and in need of amelioration.

Index fragmentation also comes into play here, as the less accurate your database’s indexes, the longer it will take for queries to complete.

As with hardware capacity planning, a good monitoring strategy should accommodate software maintenance needs, and ensure that things like rebuilding indexes take place when this will not interfere with the usability of the apps and services your database supports.

Account for likely conflicts

It should go without saying that your strategy for monitoring your SQL Server is as much a proactive plan as it is a reactive one. That means you have to be equipped with an understanding of what flaws will need fixing, and more specifically what issues are not issues at all.

Take blocking, for example. This arises when processes have an exclusive lock on a server resource, and other processes are made to wait until the lock is released. It might sound bad, but a good DBA will know that it is also crucial to how SQL Server functions as a concurrent database platform.

Deadlocks are a little more worrying, but if they occur infrequently then they are far from a total disaster. Even so, combining your own skills and experience with the right monitoring tool will ensure that as conflicts like this rear their heads, you are prepared to swat them down.

Be prepared to make strategic adjustments

It is unhelpful to finish putting together an SQL Server monitoring strategy and then doggedly stick to it even if it is not delivering the results you expected, or if the circumstances of your database change in some way.

Flexibility is another attribute that DBAs should foster, and this includes being happy to tweak and alter your monitoring strategy when it is prudent to do so.

One way to guide your strategic decisions is to keep monitoring after changes are implemented and assess what effect these have, positive or negative.

So, in short, rather than sticking your head in the sand and assuming that your database is running smoothly until it all comes to a grinding halt, make an active effort to implement a monitoring strategy that works well today and can shift to suit your needs tomorrow.

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